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Choosing a College Goal: Personal Interest vs. Career

Is career choice an either-or situation?  When students foresee the goal of their college education, they are caught in a tug-of-war between the sensible prospect of job security or a career path tailored to their passions and interests.  Rarely do they overlap.  They may consider the kitchen their happy place, but know that majors in Culinary Arts fall on the lower end of the college grad income spectrum.  Therein lies the conundrum: What should be their focus?

Out of a pool of Freshman polled entering UCLA, the majority listed a decent job as their top reason for attending college.  This is a clear shift from 20-30 years ago, when gaining skills and exploring interests reigned as the core ideal.  As expected, this correlated with an overall deviation from the number of awarded degrees in science and the arts.

Despite technically-driven majors leading to the highest paid entry-level careers (Engineering in particular), such programs offer little if any skills in communication.  According to Bloomberg’s “2015 Job Skills” interactive graphic, the most desired and rarer attributes would sorely lack in technical programs: Leadership, Creative Problem-Solving, and Communication.

Speech 101 may cover the basics, but GE courses typically only dip the student’s toe into the pool instead of drilling deeper into specifics, as they are intended.  Those students of technical study must then train themselves via self-education or consciously step outside their area of expertise by enrolling in courses unrelated to their degree.  This more than likely parallels our earlier mentioned tug-of-war.

Unrelated courses may inspire and motivate, while required material feels more like a tried and true job; it may lead to possible dislike and eventually resent toward their field.

As with life, students should find that golden balance between necessity and passion.  Avoid relying on an illustrious career as a renowned author, but find a way to weave your writing prowess into a job with a proven record for stability.  Who knows; actively pursuing creative hobbies on the side may end up paying the bills, too!

This blog was provided by Westface College Planning.  For more tips and information, sign up for a free College Funding workshop or webinarcall us at (650) 587-1559, or send us an e-mail.

Future Investing with Summer Programs and Internships

watermelonWith summer approaching, you and other high school students may first bask in the glow of three months away from essays and assigned projects.  Once that feeling subsides—particularly for all of you wonderfully ambitious students—you’ll wonder if any options exist to keep your mind stimulated, prepare yourself for their future careers, or possibly explore avenues they have yet to tread.  So what’s the answer?  Summer programs and internships!

Science? Art? Communications? There’s a Program for All of Them!

For our California pupils, here are a few local opportunities orchestrated by colleges over the summer that may peak your interest, courtesy of the Los Altos High School College and Career Center:

Academy of Art College in San Francisco
“Six-week intensive art program offers up to four classes either online or onsite in San Francisco. Get a glimpse into college life, meet other young artists and explore a variety of art & design fields. Note: Students staying in Campus Housing must take four on campus classes.”

COSMOS (California State Summer School for Math and Science)
UC Davis, UC Irvine, UC San Diego and UC Santa Cruz

“Cosmos is a four week residential academic experience in math, science and engineering for top high school students. Students can participate in one of the many clusters of the COSMOS program at any of the above UC campuses. Some sample clusters are Under the Sea: Exploring Marine Organisms and Their World, Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering: Robots and Flying Machines, Medical & Veterinary Responses to Infectious Diseases, and Environmental Sciences and Experimental Ecology.

Students apply to one of the four University of California’s COSMOS campuses — UC Davis, UC Irvine, UC San Diego and UC Santa Cruz. Each campus may have a different focus.”

Internship Programs

Stanford Institutes of Medicine Summer Research Program
Palo Alto, CA

“An 8-week summer internship program open to high school juniors and seniors. Hands-on research under guidance of a one-on-one mentor. Choose from immunology, stem cell biology, neurobiology, cardiovascular medicine and cancer biology.”

ZOMA Worldwide
Palo Alto, CA

“An international internship program for high school students based in various industries in Shanghai, China. Must have completed sophomore you and have strong academic records and proven leadership abilities. Chinese language is not required by students enrolled in Chinese language coursework is preferred. Internships are available in the areas of high tech, marketing, public relations, advertising, law travel and hospitality and architecture. Bilingual resident assistants are on-site 24 hours for supervision and assistance.”

Make a Decision Based on YOUR Goals

If earning some cash on the side is your driving force, an internship may not be your best choice for this summer.  While internships add bulk to an otherwise sparse resume, they are often notoriously unpaid.

On that same token, unpaid internships and volunteering may seem like thankless work, but both can easily lead to a future “in” at a company.  A connection with them on LinkedIn® assures an open-ended opportunity to re-connect once you’re finishing up the last requirements for your degree.

We all deserve some R&R, but with three long months ahead of summer 2015, why not devote part of your time to a worthwhile investment in your future (and bank account)?

This blog was provided by Westface College Planning.  For more tips and information, sign up for a free College Funding workshop or webinarcall us at (650) 587-1559, or send us an e-mail.

Photo Credit: Harsha KR

College Choice: How Important is Financial Fit?

3493082186_52d4d2807f_z-150x150Acceptance letters are in!  Seniors have less than a month to finalize their college choice.  Most seniors have applied to multiple colleges, and potentially found two, three, or more acceptance letters sitting in their mailbox or popping up in their inbox.  While some find the choice is a no-brainer, others are stumped.  Out of five acceptances, perhaps not a single one stands out as the golden opportunity.  So, how do you choose? Does the cost matter?  How do you measure your ROI (return-on-investment)?


Your choices may be pitted against one another as equally good academic and social fits, but what about the financial fit? Which college measures up as the best investment based on financial returns for your student?

ROI, as defined by PayScale, refers to the college’s net cost combined with the length of time required to earn that amount after securing a job.

Recently, PayScale released their yearly list of top colleges based upon ROI.  They offer a quick review of their top performers in their “Best Value Colleges.” According to PayScale, majors and career choices matter as well as college choice.  Science majors would see Cal Poly and San Jose State topping the chart, while students of Economics would mull over Rank #1 University of Pennsylvania and UC Berkeley at #2.

“Results May Vary”

The report lists estimated ROI, the average 4 year cost (with and without financial aid), graduation rate, and more.  Keep in mind the data is mined from average statistics at each college, not data down to the individual student.

Results do vary by student.  Every student will pay a different amount for college (it’s true!), so you’ll need to calculate your own ROI, using PayScale’s salary estimates for the career you are seeking.  ROI provides an analytical, practical means to assist in determining your final college choice.

We recommend keeping financial fit in the forefront of your decision making process, along with academic and social fit.  The cost of college does matter to the majority of families.  Consider ROI as one determining factor to make your ultimate decision.

This blog was provided by Westface College Planning.  For more tips and information, sign up for a free College Funding workshop or webinar or call us at (650) 587-1559.

Photo Credit: circulating

The Money-Hungry Monster of Textbook Prices

Textbook PricesImagine this scenario: You’re a newly accepted freshman wrought with a sense of anticipation and wonder as you hit the “submit” button to finalize your class roster.  To fully prepare for your upcoming venture, you view your college’s bookstore website to add up prices.  Then you sit, horrified and wide-eyed as your textbook cost amounts to $300, $400, or $500+ for the required materials.

This number may be particularly shocking for California community college (CCC) attendees, who intentionally avoided excess cost for their initial 2-year courses spent at a CSU or UC.  Instead of shelling out over $13,000 per year for a CSU in-state tuition, the average a CCC student can expect is around $4,000.  So they accept their $1,000 to 2,000 or so fee for the term, only to realize that books alone could reach up to $600 or more that semester.  That’s 40% of their tuition.  Talk about excessive!

Unimaginable Price Jumps

As pointed out by the Wall Street Journal, the book “Principles of Economics” forces students to pay at least $250 for that single text.  Many students end up covering textbook costs using their own money.  If they clocked in 35 hours of minimum wage earns, they could afford that book, but compared to 1982, a book with that information cost $20.  With minimum wage at $3.35, it instead took merely six hours to cover the cost.

To put the massive sticker price jump into further perspective, let this digest for a minute: In the past 30 years, textbook prices have swelled up—get ready for it—a whopping 812%.

Underlying Reasoning

If you get the chance, unfold the front cover of a classroom textbook and see if you can find its retail price hidden anywhere among the usual publishing details.  We can almost guarantee that’ll be a futile venture.

While publishers purposely leave out the wholesale price, teachers and students fail to question it further.  The allure of used and rental opportunities beckon penny-pinching students, but unfortunately, additional features like online quizzes (via SAM or other mediums) can only be accessed using a code, either bundled with a pricey brand-new book or as a stand-alone code.  It seems silly, but you could purchase what you think is a full-fledged text, and find yourself $200 deeper in debt for a piece of paper typed with an activation key.

Instructors choose these routes because of the beneficial features to save them time: PowerPoints, pre-made exams, and other helpful materials… but these are for the teacher’sconvenience.  Despite the outrageous sticker prices, instructors accept it as necessity, and thus render students unable to bypass the extra cost.  With the focus on rising tuition costs, textbooks become a side-product of the higher education inflation.  At what point will we start raising our voices and pushing back to what’s considered unreasonable?  900% inflation?  1,000?

This blog was provided by Westface College Planning. For more tips and information, sign up for a free College Funding workshop or webinar or call us at (650) 587-1559.

Photo Credit: Jeff Krause

Studying Tips


Studying is not always a fun thing to tackle and it can be easy to fall down the rabbit hole thanks to Tumblr or Buzzfeed quizzes. At times, the mind tricks you into thinking that everything and anything is a lot more interesting than studying. Next thing you know it, two hours have gone by and you have only read two sentences of your notes (believe me, I have been there).

Although studying may be the last thing you want to do, it is something that you have to power through. Why? You are building something for your future in every achievement. Plus, the satisfaction you feel once you do well on your exam is totally worth it.

So it’s time to stop procrastinating and Netflixing, and let’s discuss some studying tips!

1. Put down the social media


Log out of Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Pinterest, and other social media outlets that could distract you from studying. If it is crunch time and you need to get some serious studying in, social media can definitely wait.

If you find yourself subconsciously logging back into your social media accounts, download a program to block distracting websites from your computer for a set period of time. For PC, use the program Cold Turkey. For Mac, use the program Self Control.

2. Silence your phone


If you are not expecting an urgent phone call or text, silence your phone and put it away. Sometimes it is easy to subconsciously whip out your phone when studying is not going very well. Power through and check out all of your notifications from your phone later.

3. Leave a trail of gummy bears when reading



This little studying hack gives you incentive for your work. If you need to get a lot of reading done, try leaving a gummy bear trail throughout the page. Once you reach a gummy bear, you get to eat it and move on to the next paragraph.

PS: It does not necessarily have to be gummy bears. It can be whichever snack you prefer, however, a healthy snack is advised.

4. Listen to music



A little music can give you the concentration you need and help block out your surroundings. Finding the right type of music to go well with your studying is important. Tailor your music playlist to the type of subject you are studying. If you are reading or writing, listen to lyric-less tunes.

There are many music websites and services to help you find your perfect studying mix. For example, Pandora, 8tracks, Songza, and Spotify are great options.

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10 Interviewing Do’s and Don’ts


Safeway Corporation’s Field Recruiter Andrea Schulz

Interviews can be nerve wracking, but here at GiveTeens20®, we have your back.

We recently chatted with Safeway Corporation’s Field Recruiter, Andrea Schulz, about some interviewing do’s and don’ts. As a field recruiter, some of Schulz’s duties include communicating with store and district managers about hiring needs, working with community based organizations and going to job fairs.

Schulz has had her fair share of being an interviewer and just recently interviewed some people at a job fair.

With help from Schulz, here are some interviewing do’s and don’ts to help you prepare for them. Good luck and may the odds be ever in your favor!

1. Do your research.

Make sure you know about the company and what they do before you go into the interview. “It shows that you care about the job that you’re applying for, and that you have done your homework,” says Schulz.

2. Don’t speak negatively about your past co-workers or bosses.

If you are asked about a time of conflict at work, make sure you do not bad-mouth your past co-workers or bosses. Speaking negatively about your past job or boss is a red flag for interviewers and puts your professionalism in jeopardy.

Instead of blatantly saying that you hated your manager, Schulz suggests spinning it into more of a positive note such as, “My manager and I didn’t see eye-to-eye, but at the end of the day, we tried to work together.”

3. Do dress appropriately for your interview.

When you are researching the company, make sure you find out what their dress code is like. Some companies can be more casual about their dress code than others. “Do your research on where you are going but never be underdressed,” Schulz explains.

4. Don’t answer with just a yes or no.

If it is not a closed-ended question, make sure you elaborate on your answers. “Always give examples with whatever you’re asked,” says Schulz.

It is important to note, however, that your answers should not be a monologue either.

5.  Do arrive early for your interview.

Make sure you arrive 10-15 minutes before your interview. This will give you some time to get situated and gather your thoughts. Being late leaves a bad first impression.

6. Don’t arrive too early.

Yes, arriving too early can also be detrimental. Arriving too early makes it awkward in the waiting room.

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Top 10 FAFSA Mistakes to Avoid

Are you ready to file your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)?  Because the government and colleges give aid on a first come, first serve basis, it’s important to submit as early as possible.

FAFSA Mistakes to Avoid

Unfortunately, a single (seemingly harmless) mistake on your FAFSA can delay processing for weeks, moving your application behind the countless others that were submitted correctly. The good news: Youu can take steps to prevent those mistakes from happening!

Here are the top 10 mistakes to avoid when completing the FAFSA:

  1. Leaving a field blank.  Many people see a question that doesn’t apply to them and mistakenly leave it blank. Instead, write in a “0” or “not applicable” so the processor doesn’t assume you forgot to answer and reject the application.
  1. Entering the wrong tax amount.  Do not use the information from your W-2. Instead, refer to you 1040 federal tax return to report income and taxes paid. Remember you should fill out the FAFSA before you file taxes using an estimate, but you need to get in there and update it with the correct numbers once your taxes are complete.
  1. Reporting incorrect marital status.  Although you may be engaged, if you aren’t legally married on the day you file, list your marital status as single.
  1. Reporting incorrect parent information.  The parent you lived with for most of the year is the one to fill out the FAFSA, so make sure you include information for the right parent. If your primary guardian remarried, you’ll need to include requested information about your stepparent as well.
  1. Forgetting to sign the application.  It might sound simple, but a lot of people forget this important step. If you’re filing as a dependent, both you and your parents need to sign the application. If you’re filing online, you can sign electronically using PIN numbers (you can get them from http://www.pin.ed.gov).
  1. Filing late.  Procrastinating leads to missed opportunities for aid. Remember to stay on top of deadlines, and because it’s first-come, first-serve, get your FAFSA in as soon as possible.
  1. Providing too much information.  You don’t need to include information about retirement accounts and home equity. If you include this information on your application, your chances for aid will shrink, so leave them off. NOTE: The FAFSA does ask about second homes and real estate investments, so you’ll need to provide details about those if applicable.
  1. Listing just one school.  List every school to which you’ve applied or are planning to apply so you don’t miss deadlines at any of the colleges you’re considering.
  1. Not filing at all.  There is no reason not to file the FAFSA. Even if you think you make too much money, you might be surprised, and it doesn’t hurt at all. Simply by completing the application you will be eligible for Stafford government student loans. Some non-citizens qualify for federal and college financial aid, too, so don’t use your citizenship status as a reason not to file.
  1. Not following directions or getting help.  As with any form, read the directions carefully. If you aren’t sure about a question, check the FAQ section on the FAFSA Web site or call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED AID (1-800-433-3243). You also can take advantage of the government’s online chat sessions by using FAFSA on the Web Customer Service Live Help from Monday through Saturday. Of course, I’m happy to answer any questions you have as well. Feel free to contact me via phone or email!

This blog was provided by Westface College Planning. For more tips and information, sign up for a free College Funding workshop or webinar or call us at (650) 587-1559.

Photo Credit: Terrance Heath

5 Reasons Why High School Students Should Be On LinkedIn®


The professional networking website LinkedIn® has certainly grown from its initial launch in 2003. According to the company’s website, LinkedIn® has over 330 million members in over 200 countries. The website allows professionals to connect with other professionals in their area of expertise, gain knowledge on companies and discover which companies are hiring.

In 2013, LinkedIn® opened their website to high school students. Although the website may not be as popular to high school students as it is to adults, high school students should very much consider joining the networking site.

Here are 5 reasons why high school students should be on LinkedIn®.

1. Connect for the future.

By starting now and connecting with your classmates, teachers and mentors, you are building a network of connections that may help you down the line. According to a 2012 ABC News report, 80% of jobs are landed through networking. Your friend or mutual friend may just end up working at a company that you have been eyeing for quite some time.

Connecting now can also save you the trouble of having a fun social event turn into a sudden job hunt. For example, lets fast-forward to your 10-year high school reunion. Some of your classmates are working at major successful companies. Instead of worrying about hitting them up to help you get a job, you can enjoy the special occasion because you have already connected with them in the past and know what they are up to.

2. Helps you figure out where to attend college.

LinkedIn® recently rolled out a feature called “University Pages” to help students learn more about colleges. It gives students a place to find updates on campus news, ask questions and connect with the campus community. LinkedIn® can help students decide where to go to college based on what they want to study, where they wish to work, where they want to live and what they want to do. Students can also connect with current students or alumni for their perspectives on the school.

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10 Things to Consider in College As Told by a Recent Grad

Hello GT20 readers. Today’s post will be different. It will still be informative (hopefully!) but more conversational. For some of you, college is right around the corner. This post is for you.

In retrospect, college gave me the best four years I could ever ask for. It was engaging, challenging and eye-opening. Yes, from time to time there were tears, but also a lot of laughter. I have made a lot of good memories with some unforgettable people, and I have learned a lot about myself.

Throughout my years in college, I have learned a few lessons that I would like to share with you all. In no particular order, here are 10 things to consider in college, as told by a recent grad.

1. Take some classes for pure enjoyment.

The nice thing about college is that you can pick and choose what classes you want to take. College is a nice time to explore your interests. If you can, take some classes that sound fun to you. Going to class is a lot better when you enjoy what you are learning.

 2Join clubs and/or organizations.

College is not only a nice time to explore your interests, but it is also an opportunity to meet new people. Joining clubs or organizations are great ways to do this. There will be a club or an organization for almost anything. Find something you enjoy and hang out with people that enjoy it too!

3If your school has a recreational center, take advantage of it.

In college, the one thing that I regret was not using the recreational center as much as I would have liked. You are in fact paying for it through your tuition fee, so why not use it? It is important that you take care of yourself and stay healthy.

4. Network.

Trust me, it is never too early to start networking. If you are not on the social networking website LinkedIn®, it is time to create a profile and get connected with classmates, teachers and mentors. This website allows you to connect with people in your professional world, find job opportunities, and gain insight about your career. It is one of the best networking tools out there so take advantage of it! Your future-self will thank you for this. Once you graduate, it is not who you know, but who knows you.

5. Pay attention in class.

You do not have to be a perfect student, but make sure you know what is going on in your classes. If you have questions for your professor, make sure you ask them. Getting an A in the class means nothing if you do not retain any of the information.

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4 Tax-Saving Strategies for College Funding

Tax CheckIt seems there are as many ways to save for college as there are colleges. It pays to do some research and understand ways you can not only save for your child’s education, but also save on your yearly tax bill.

Depending on how much college costs, it’s possible to use tax strategies to save as much as you spend on college tuition (particularly in the long run). Here are a few tactics to consider:

      1. Income shifting.  This is the practice of “shifting” earned and unearned income to your child, so that you avoid paying taxes on that income.  Your child may have to pay some taxes, depending on the amount and the age of your child, but will be subjected to a much lower rate.  Note that unearned income (gifts) tax rules allow for a $13,000 annual exclusion per person, or $26,000 on joint returns.
      2. Standard deduction and personal exemption.  Parents can claim a personal exemption for their child as long as they provide more than half the child’s support.  If your child uses their own income as a personal support (more than half), then they can claim the exemption instead.
      3. Tax credits.  There are several tax credits your child can claim, including the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC)—worth up to $2,500 a year per student—the Hope Scholarship Credit, the Lifetime Learning Tax Credit, or the tuition and fees deduction.  However, keep in mind that you can only use one.
      4. Watch out for the Kiddie Tax.  “Kiddie Tax” is tax on unearned income to minors.  It applies to children under age 19 and full-time college students under the age of 24.

Strategies used for each family will undoubtedly vary.  Some strategies, such as income shifting, only makes sense for a family who will not qualify for need-based financial aid.  Income shifting may save taxes, but also might consequently decrease financial aid eligibility.

Curious which of these strategies might work for you?  Contact me for advice specific to your family’s situation!

Westface College Planning can help navigate the financial aid process from start to finish.  To learn how we can help you call us at (650) 587-1559 or sign up for one of our Tackling the Runaway Costs of College Workshops or Webinars.

Photo Credit: Great Beyond